Talking Film with ISKL Alumnus Ed Moline
Scriptwriter and producer, Ed Moline (‘03), knows all about resilience, having chosen to pursue a career in the extremely competitive world of film and television production. That admirable trait is being tested now as his industry, like many, feels the impact of shutdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ed shares his story, favorite memories of his high school years at ISKL and his Top 10 tips for cracking the film and television industry.
Did you know when you finished school that you would go into the TV production world? Was it an interest that was fostered at ISKL?
ISKL was brilliant in letting me explore a lot of interests I had. By the time I finished school I thought I wanted to either go into something to do with politics/international relations or something related to storytelling and performance. I was active in MUN, debate and Student Council which fostered my political interests. As for storytelling, a big part of my interest grew out of time spent in the theatre getting the chance to work backstage, perform and even write and direct my own one-act plays. Amongst many great teachers, Patty Sands was especially encouraging on the writing front. I took a lot out of an elective photography course and an independent study course in film making. Just as formative as those experiences, were all the weekends and afternoons being roped into helping Matt Smith (also class of 2003) make his movies.
What did you study after school and did ISKL influence how you embraced university life?
After leaving ISKL, I continued my international student experience by going to university in the UK instead of returning to the USA. Settling into the University of Bristol was very difficult. I was on the wrong course (Chemistry - it turned out I liked my ISKL Chemistry teacher Mrs. Goh a lot more than the subject itself) and I struggled for half a year to find extra-curricular where I could fit in. But Bristol always felt like the right place to be. Once I switched my degree to Politics and Social Policy things started falling into place. It properly felt like a new home when I found my way into the University of Bristol Film-Making Society (UBFS) and was elected on to the university’s Student Council (a continuation of my days on the ISKL Student Council). ISKL instilled an attitude in me that if you wanted something to be different in the world, you should go out and make that difference yourself. This helped me get a lot out of university life, including co-founding Screentest National Student Film Festival. At the time UBFS had nowhere to showcase our films. Nor did societies from other universities. So we fixed it.
What are the greatest joys and challenges of being a scriptwriter and consultant?
While I do write prose fiction in my spare time, professionally I’m a producer and script editor. This can mean taking a project from their conception through to production and final delivery but I tend to work mainly in development; the early stages of a project getting a script and proposal strong enough to be successfully pitched. The hardest bit of the job is taking all the knock-backs and no’s on the chin and still pressing on. There are a million reasons why a great project might not be made so patience and resilience are a must. The best bit though is when you get to see the impact your work has made on the audience – whether at a live screening or elsewhere. Last year, my office received fan mail for a kids’ comedy show I developed and helped to produce (So! Beano) and it’s a special kind of thrill to see how happy your work can make young viewers.
How has Netflix and streamed services affected the work you do? What about Covid-19?
From my perspective, the arrival of global streaming services has been brilliant for TV and film. There are more high-quality productions being funded and made than ever before. Reaching a global audience also means reaching large enough niche audiences to make creatively daring shows and films which previously would have been overlooked to attract broader audiences in individual nations.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has been exceptionally devastating for the industry. Animation is faring ok, but nearly all live-action scripted filming has stopped and won’t start up again until we are sure we can keep everyone on set safe. This is made exceptionally hard due to the fact that many jobs on set can’t be done with social distancing (especially when it comes to actors, hair & make-up, etc.). The entire film/TV ecosystem is going to have to reform itself considering elements like restrictions on travel for an industry that has become very international or the fact that so much writing and acting talent comes up through the theatre world which is even worse hit. Right now, a lot of my work is centered around solving that problem: how to make amazing content in a world trying to manage a pandemic.
Is there a project you are most proud of? Why?
I was part of the team that got season 2 of Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed off the ground. It’s a gorgeous, big budget CG Animation series with one of the UK’s most iconic children’s characters. Working to bring that to life was a big thrill and the results of which will soon be on CBBC in the UK and Netflix in the rest of the world.
Is there a project you would love to get off the ground?
I’ve always been drawn to comedy and politics so getting a satire off the ground would be amazing. I’ve just had two original series optioned which I can’t say much about, but one of them fits the bill in this regard.
Do you have any advice for ISKL students interested in a career in TV or film?
As it happens I’ve been asked this question a number of times over the years and have boiled my advice down to ten tips which I’ve shared one on one with others. I’ve included all ten tips below.
My number one piece of advice is start making content now on any scale you can. The more you make, the better you’ll be in your craft and storytelling. Ultimately this will lead to a more impressive portfolio of work that is what you need to get noticed. If you have a phone, a laptop and an internet connection you have enough tools to start now. Write scripts, film scenes, have fun.
What are your favourite memories of ISKL, KL and Malaysia? I know you stay in touch with some ISKL Alumni - what keeps those bonds strong?
I have so many great memories of Malaysia and ISKL. It's hard to pick favourites. Rugby tournaments, senior trip to Langkawi and making Matt’s movies all come to mind. Those all involved a group of friends I’m still very close with. Having a Whatsapp group is great to keep us talking to each other on a regular basis. Living in London has also helped as so many people pass through going from one country to another that I get treated to visits more often than I should. But nothing beats travelling to get together in person whether that’s for a wedding, to celebrate New Years or for an annual camping trip.
How did ISKL shape the person you are now?
It’s hard to explain all the ways ISKL shaped me. Hopefully the answers above go some way to answer that question. It’s safe to say, without the experiences and education gained through ISKL I would not be where I am today.
Ed’s Top Ten Tips for Cracking the Film and TV Industry
It might seem like a daunting task to make it as a writer, director or producer in film/television. The bad news is it is fiercely competitive and requires a lot of hard work, determination and patience to get to the point that you are making a good living from it. The good news is that with enough effort anybody can do it and if you are truly passionate about creating films then you will have a lot of fun along the way. I've seen a lot of people make it in film and TV and a lot give up. The ones that made it came from all sorts of backgrounds and didn't have much in common but they did do a lot of the same things. These are all things you can do yourself starting now:
Make your own content and never stop. If you don't read past this point, just take away this: go make stuff now. Make your own films/documentaries/podcasts/animations/any media product you like and never stop. This is the most important thing you can do. It's how you learn your craft. How you build up a network of creatives you'll work with throughout your career. How you find out what your voice is and where your passions lie. And most importantly of all, how you build up a portfolio to show off your skills and dedication to future employers, producers and the like. From everything I've seen, the people who make the most in their spare time tend to be the people who get the most success the quickest. If you have a decent camera phone, a laptop and an internet connection you can download free editing software and start making films now on no budget. Podcasts and eBooks are even easier. Don't let a lack of money or equipment stop you.
Educate yourself. There are a ton of skills that film-making requires. The more you learn the better your films will be and the more opportunities there will be for you when you are starting out. Story structure, lighting, shooting, sound recording, sound mixing, editing and vfx are all worth getting at least a basic understanding of. Read books/scripts, watch YouTube tutorials, analyse films as you watch them, sign up to online courses - whatever you can get your hands on, do it. On your early projects you might need to use all these skills. Eventually, you should specialise in one or two elements of the craft and find other great specialists to work with. When you do, they will appreciate the understanding of their skillset which you bring to set.
Embrace Mistakes. To be an excellent film-maker you have to try new things and experiment. Experience and knowledge will help you avoid them, but mistakes are part of the process and shouldn’t be feared otherwise you might end up creating nothing. Making creative mistakes is how you learn and how you discover what works. Much of film-making is figuring out how to do something that has never been done before. Take comfort in the fact that we are all making it up as we go along.
Pursue excellence. In all aspects, the quality of film and television has never been higher. To be successful, “good enough” isn’t good enough. For your personal projects demand excellence from yourself. When you are going for a job, seek out the companies and filmmakers that make excellent films. Surrounding yourself in those environments early on will teach you how to create great content. If you are going to go to a film school, make sure it is world class. A top-tier film school will have you learn from the greats and open doors. A mediocre film school will just be a delay to the start of your career.
Get your foot in the door and ask for opportunities. It is seriously tough to get started in the Film/TV industry so take any work experience you can get and any job you can get that puts you in the building and near the people doing what you want to do. The key is to then use that as a stepping stone to get closer to what you want to do. Once you are in the door, you have to keep applying for jobs and asking to work on projects that take you closer to what you want. I've seen different people go from being in an accounting department, a Producer’s personal assistant and a steward at a TV industry conference to all being award winning directors.
Be passionate. You are going to be far more successful doing what you are passionate about than doing what other people say is a “smart move”. Keep your eye on your passions and move in that direction. You’ll have a lot more fun in the process and it will be easier to weather the storm when projects don’t go right.
Be positive. Film and TV requires working in stressful environments with a team of people. There is a lot of competition to get any job so nine times out of ten a person who has a good attitude, is pleasant to work with and is eager to help out will get a job before someone who is slightly more qualified or talented but a nightmare. Your reputation is everything in this industry so make sure people like working with you. Being positive also means bouncing back from setbacks and bad reviews. You'll get a lot of these no matter what you do, just learn from your experiences and power through.
Be good with money. It's an important skill to learn because a.) working to a film budget is as important as your creative talents and b.) it takes a while before this industry will reliably pay you a decent wage. The better you are with money, the longer you will last until you hit that point of being financially secure in your career - more people give up because of this than anything else. Similarly, the more creative you can be with your resources (both in life and when making films) the better off you will be.
Ask for help, not permission. Film-making, like most creative pursuits, requires collaboration. You don’t need anyone’s permission to make the film you want to make, but you will need other people’s help to make a brilliant version of it, so find talented people who share your creative vision. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be dismayed if it takes many, many tries to find the right people and most of all, if others don’t share your passion for what you want to make, ignore them and find people who do.
Promote yourself. Unfortunately it's' a myth that the best content brings in a big audience on its own. As I said before, reputation is everything in this business and promoting yourself is part of building your reputation. There are lots of ways to do this – make sketch videos that are viral hits (with viewing numbers to back it up), make music videos for break out bands, get your short films into festivals and start winning awards, etc. Also think about what unique resources you have that can make your films stand out. This could be access to a unique location, a cast with a unique skillset or an understanding of how to use a new visual effect technology/method. When it comes time to promote yourself to industry figures in person, be sure to tell them not just what you have done and can do but also what you ultimately want to do. This is likely to change over time but at any given moment people can only help you on your way if you know where you want to go.